Dear Too Close:
Few things can disrupt a culturally healthy team like a dating relationship between co-worker and team leader, and it may be more common than you think. CareerBuilder reports 38 percent of women and 21 percent of menhave dated someone above them in the organization hierarchy. Unfortunately, when that happens, the prognosis for the team is not good.
While a workplace tryst may provide temporary bliss for the couple involved, bliss is not what the rest of the team will experience. Team openness, trust, collaboration, and commitment all suffer when a leader and one team member form an “item.”
Whether they intend to or not, the couple will naturally raise their personal relationship above that of the team — including team objectives and commitments. This is probably the source of the perceived favoritism.
If your suspicions are correct, your involved co-worker now exerts a special influence over the team leader. As a result, members of your team probably find themselves less willing to share information both with the team leader and co-worker. Your team may fracture as those within the involved co-worker’s personal circle become “insiders.” Or, team members may alienate the co-worker.
If your team was previously a high-performing unit, the fallout could substantially disrupt the business, damaging morale, employee engagement, or work processes. These reasons, and your commitment to team success, obligate you to do what you can to resolve it. But consider this: As long as you only suspect the couple is having an affair and have only circumstantial evidence, treat the situation as if it’s something the team can handle. If the evidence is undeniable, you should take your concerns to an HR leader or a trusted leader who is at least the same level as your team leader.
Let’s assume for a moment that you really only have a sneaking suspicion about the couple’s relationship, but it’s clear that the leader’s recent behaviors are hurting the team’s ability to execute the mission. You are still probably hesitant to raise this ticklish issue. After all, the person you need to confront is someone with control over your livelihood – you will want some reassurance that you can address the problem without damaging the relationship or your career.
If you decide to confront your leader about the problem, here are some important guidelines to follow:
Make a list beforehand of the three most problematic leader practices stemming from what you have observed and the affects they have on the team’s ability to produce results. Be as specific as you can with descriptions of lower morale, reduced productivity, wasted time, inefficient communications, and so on. Provide metrics, if possible, to back up your observations.
When you meet with your leader, show thoughtfulness and compassion, focusing on team goals rather than his relationship with the co-worker. Begin by explaining why the topic is important to the team, hold the conversation you prepared beforehand, and suggest ways the leader could improve team results. Ask him how he feels about your ideas and what concerns he has about them. Offer to help him and the team with these challenges and thank him for considering your ideas.
If you manage the conversation well, your leader should recognize your sincere concern for the team and thoughtfully consider your suggestions. Although it won’t solve the greater problems inherent in a dalliance between your leader and co-worker, the conversation may encourage your leader to mitigate them at some level, if your suspicions are accurate.
If things don’t improve, the bad news is you will have to consider the possibility that your suspicions about your leader and co-worker were correct and that your team will never be the same. At that point, you will be faced with the prospect of living with a damaged team that may never recover, asking for a transfer, or polishing your resume for a new beginning elsewhere.
SOURCE: Kevin Herring, President, Ascent Management Consulting, Ltd., Oro Valley, Arizona
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